On Entitlement

On Entitlement: Special treatment pandering or an exposing of systems that do not advance the participants.

I graduated from college in 2011. I was quite proud of this fact, given my history of ups and downs, being a non-traditional student, and not coming from money. I was very happy that I had managed to get through and obtain a degree. I even managed a B- average, while juggling a job, being a full-time student, lettering in wrestling each year (was really bad at it), landing a teacher’s apprentice position for a junior/senior level English course, and an internship.

The summer following graduation was the busiest time of my life. I had taken the GRE, scoring in the 86th percentile in one category and 67th, 73rd in the other categories. I was working at an internship and my part-time college food service job, and doing some personal training – while myself training at the most ambitious, aggressive and demanding level of my entire life. It was also the summer that I began a relationship with the woman who would become my wife. Oh, and I also drove a bicycle cab service, or rickshaw, four nights a week from midnight until bar close on the same street I had frequented as a designated driver for my friends over the years. It was a busy time, but it was fine because I knew that something else would come along in the near future. I was either going to grad school or getting a full-time job.

The grad school rejection letters came back, the job applications went out. Of the 16 that I sent out within our small sized community (population approximately 70,000), only one organization showed interest beyond an initial interview. I accepted a position within that organization in November of 2011. The position was the best paying job I had up to that point in my life and involved working at the corporate office of a large regional financial. I was excited to have an opportunity to “get my foot in the door” and work up from there. After all, it was full-time work at a pivotal post-graduate time in my life where I was receiving rejection from grad schools on one hand, while beginning the most important relationship of my life on the other. Fast forward three years, the foot is still “in the door.”

It has been a long and surprisingly painful journey to learn how to navigate through the “real world” of post-college, non-degree work. I didn’t know how to move up, how to apply myself, how to balance work, volunteerism and build a resume with enough magic words sprinkled in to unlock the path to my aspired career. They say you never stop learning and I have to agree. I have tweaked countless resumes and cover letters, had some encouraging interviews and some moments of true defeat. But, I am still here – foot in the door.

There is no shame in saying that I do not currently have a “degree” job. I know of multiple people who have held or currently hold the same position I do within the same organization who do not have a bachelor’s degree. I do not mind, everyone should have the right to work within the capacity that the job allows if they are capable of performing the tasks required. The problem for me is that I am not building a resume, a case for a better job, or graduate school. I am performing a particular task with a high level efficiency that I can repeatedly perform until retirement comes along, I die, or get cut loose (read: fired); or I can attempt to move ahead into something that both stimulates and challenges me. Something that I believe in and am passionate about, that isn’t a dead end or filler on a resume. Something that will reward me for my efforts so that having two cars in our family or saving for our first house become more than just wishes and become actual options. And that is what I am aiming for.

A fun fact about the GRE is that no matter how good, or bad, your scores may be, they expire after five years. At that point, you can either a) give up on graduate studies, or b) retake the GRE and hope that your score is better than or equal to what you were able to do several years earlier. If you get a bad score, or a score that you are not satisfied with, you can retake the exam as many times as you would like. When you get that score you are satisfied with, or is as good as it will get, your clock is ticking. Use it or lose it has been said about many things before. The clock is always ticking on the GRE. As I write this, the clock is ticking on my GRE scores.

In my effort to move into a field of work better suited to me, I have done what countless millions before have done: I applied for job openings – both internal and external.  First time around: swing and a miss. Second time around: swing and a miss. Third time around – closest yet – again a swing and a miss. You may be noticing a pattern. I occupy a position within an organization, where I have no advancement opportunities, organic or forced. My options are to move to another facet within the organization or make an external move. Given my time with my current organization and the opportunity they provided me to begin with, I would love to stay within that ecosystem and I recently had yet another opportunity to interview for a position that would have led me out of my current line of work, an increase in pay, something to add to my resume. But, it wasn’t where I wanted to end up, just somewhere to go to try something new and make living a bit more affordable.

There was a certain unique and frank environment during the interview. The manager who oversees the position that I was interviewing for is both a reference on my other internal applications and also a former manager in the department I work. This individual has been very helpful to me and I appreciate everything this person has done for me in my time with this financial. I felt that it was imperative that I be completely forthright about my intentions for the position: it would be just another stepping stone. I needed to move out of my current position and into work that I enjoy and helps improve my quality of living. The interview was borderline informal, which is common for me since I’m more of an up front, straight talker. It was a good interview and I assumed that I would not hear back anything about being offered the position, it had been made clear that they do not have or want frequent turnover within the position due to the level of responsibility and I had made it perfectly clear that I was working on borrowed time and at this point in my life with both my professional and educational goals I do not have the time to sit and wait another 5-8 years and hope that something else might pop up that could marginally advance me in a field of work that I genuinely did not wish to pursue as a career.

It was a pleasant surprise when I did receive a follow up interview. I was informed that I would not be receiving a job offer for the position in question. They had elected another candidate; someone with a service record within our organization that had a decade plus of experience in the type of work that the position entailed. I was absolutely fine with this, as I told them at the time, I would have done a great job for them, but I do not offer the long-term solution that they were seeking.  They made what I consider the correct hire, hedge your bets with the safest option that is as close to a lock as possible both for experience and stability. What did shock me during the follow up was when I was referred to as coming off as entitled. It was expressed to me in a very friendly way, more as a suggestion to help build future success and be cautionary in the verbiage I use to express my situation. I respect that, but I take issue with it just the same.

I had been labeled as entitled by management within my organization. What caused this? My assertion that I either needed to move into a position where I felt challenged and stimulated or that I would need to look beyond the organization that currently employed me. I challenge the assertion that I behave as though I am entitled in totality. The term entitlement is a pejorative by the very essence of the word. Look it up in whatever definition source you prefer and you can find a descriptor that reads something like this, “the belief that one is inherently deserving of privileges or special treatment.” Up to the point at which I was informed that I came off as entitled because I wished to pursue bigger and better things for myself professionally, the following things were, and as of this time still are, true:

1.   Longest tenured employee within my specific position

2.   Received multiple annual performance reviews, never scoring less than above average

3.   Completed multiple voluntary cross-trainings within different sectors of the organization

4.   Completed multiple voluntary courses meant to educate on the field of work I am in

5.   Made every effort to meet with our talent services department in order to find more ways to be involved and useful to the organization

This is what being entitled looks like. An employee who serves dutifully in a function that does not benefit them educationally or professionally; a function that pays them, but not enough to build for a future. A team player who likes to be uplifting and positive, always seeking to help better my co-workers. A habit I brought with me from my coaching, personal training and teaching apprentice days.

My belief is that sometimes management simply does not like to be uncomfortable or feel like they may not have complete control over their employees. When I was working in a leadership capacity there was always monitoring going on, be it a concerted effort on my part or subconsciously: I need to make sure that everyone buys in and stays on the same page. When I would lead discussion groups, conduct athlete training, or when mentoring, I needed to make sure that I had their confidence and also that they were committed to doing the right thing. I respect that aspect of management and it would definitely raise some red flags for me if someone was disrupting that.

But what about the person who is not disrupting, the person who simply needs to move on to something bigger and better either inside the organization or elsewhere?

I wouldn’t be the first if that were the case. In my short time within this organization I have watched nearly a dozen young and talented individuals simply walk. They get better offers from a handful of other suitors, their situation and future options are so meager at the organization they are with, that it takes next to nothing to pull them away. In a meeting with our executive vice president, I had the chance to learn many things that I will take with me always. One of them was the truth that a company that is only about 500 employees only has so many openings and does not have the convenience of simply creating positions for their workers to slot into. It is a waiting game, management and executive leadership understands this. So why am I entitled?

To take it out of a specific and individualized context and make it more relational and big picture, consider the professional athlete. How many times have we, society, expressed outrage or disdain at an athlete who is holding out, opting out or leaving their fan base for the opportunity to make more money? On the one hand there is the fair and tired argument that they already make more money than basically any 40-hour work week, cubicle bound American. On the other hand, most cubicle warriors aren’t driving revenue for their respective employers on the scale of hundreds of millions of dollars; aren’t directly responsible for creating the attraction to the law firm, hospital, bank, or insurance company they work for. The people who do push that kind of weight behind a desk usually end up with movies made about them with titles like The Wolf of Wall Street.

Another angle that often goes unnoticed: the life span of a professional athlete. It’s a fun game to watch people struggling to process just how short the average professional football, baseball, hockey, soccer or basketball career truly is. Barring a terrible accident or illness, you can sit in your cubicle for the next 45 years and then retire comfortably, having lived that entire time within the comfort of knowing you would have a fairly secure paycheck for as long as you can manage to wake up on time and wear clothes in public. Not exactly the same as generating $100 million in jersey sales, ticket revenue, sponsorships or the like. Take into consideration that the NBA is currently completing the framework for a television deal that would net them over THREE BILLION DOLLARS annually. And they can credit that payday to their business acumen, but we all know that if there is no Kobe Bryant, no Derrick Rose, no Carmelo Anthony, no Lebron James, there is no increased revenue. Your stars, the people and players within your organization that are driven to succeed and want to win, want to function at the highest level, want to make money, want to get a master’s degree or go for a doctorate, want to move into management and eventually executive and director positions. The motivated young professionals are the ones that need to assert themselves because if they sit back their production will reap a surplus for management, but they will not be rewarded.

Like a contract, a GRE score is a limited thing. It will expire and you need to guarantee yourself that next contract, that next job or educational opportunity. Think about this: if the Seattle Seahawks management can get multiple years of Russell Wilson for around half a million dollars, why would they offer to pay him fifty times that much? But, is it wrong that when it comes time for a new contract, Russell Wilson applies himself and demands the best deal he can secure? If he feels that their offer isn’t the best, he is free to reject the offer and wait for his next opportunity to emerge. Isn’t he entitled to seek gainful employment as a free agent, to leave his employer or look for another employer? This isn’t a perfect analogy, but you get the point.

Maybe it isn’t that I am entitled, maybe it has more to do with the fact that I am ambitious, hungry, motivated. Maybe instead of seeking special treatment I am seeking out opportunity. A lot of people hate Kobe Bryant. Kobe Bryant makes more money than any other athlete in the NBA as a salary, has five world titles and is known to be the fiercest competitor in every game he plays, a guy who works harder than everyone else at his job day in and day out. Maybe instead of wanting things handed to me, I’m looking for the opportunity to perform with a little and earn more, but there does need to be more, or am I not obligated to seek out more in other places? Maybe an advanced understanding of how the structure of the organization works and a desire to take on a bigger role within that system is seen more as a belief that I inherently deserve some benefit not bestowed on others.

Entitlement is the scarlet letter that management can place on an employee. It is a stigma that can halt progress, create a divide between management and employee. Entitlement is the belief that the worker deserves special treatment.

Ambition and aspiration are not entitlement.

The future leaders of organizations are not necessarily entitled, though I cannot speak for all. Success at success is the goal for me. I want to work hard in a meaningful and challenging way. If I am not given opportunity within an organization that I have gone above and beyond to further, am I not free to pursue opportunity where it may be? Is it not my clock that is ticking and my window of opportunity? When I look back in five years, would I look back and feel like I was owed something – some special treatment – or will I have nothing but regret that I sat on my hands and let the clock run out for the benefit of an organization that isn’t giving anything back to me? The clock is ticking.